An undefeated season. An MVP opponent. A backup quarterback. A prayer in the sky.
DISTANCE: 29 yards
PLAYERS: Chris Dieker and Thyron Lewis
DATE: April 19, 2014 vs. Spokane Shock
FINAL SCORE: Gladiators 52, Shock 50
Playing four out of five games on the road to start the season takes a lot of mental toughness. However, if a team can battle through it and come out with a winning record, a bond forms within the team and the stage is set for a successful year.
The Cleveland Gladiators were 4-0 heading to Spokane for Week 5. Although the final scores were close, the team chemistry grew with every game. The Shock would be the measuring stick to see how good this team really was.
The previous season, Spokane quarterback Erik Meyer went from 3-year AFL backup to full-time starter, and defenses never knew what hit them. He threw for 4,661 yards and 112 touchdowns while also scoring 15 touchdowns with his legs, earning league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was back under center for the 2014 season and led his team to a 3-1 record entering Week 5.
The Shock took the momentum early, forcing Gladiator quarterback Shane Austin to throw his first interception of the season and leading 28-17 at halftime. The Gladiators came out seething in the second half and scored 19 unanswered points to go up by eight points.
A seesaw ensued for the remainder of the game until Spokane tied the game, 43-43, with 5:26 left in the game. After a four-touchdown night from Austin, Coach Steve Thonn moved from the rookie to the veteran, Chris Dieker, who led an eight-play drive that allowed kicker Aaron Pettrey to knock in a 22-yard field goal to go up 46-43 with 43 seconds left.
Meyer, looking for the last laugh, only needed 30 seconds to strike with another score, his seventh total touchdown of the night. The Glads faced a 50-46 deficit with 1.8 seconds left at their own 21-yard line.
Dieker brought receiver Thyron Lewis in motion, and with great protection, stepped up and threw to the right, where three receivers and three defensive backs stood and watched, waiting to react as the ball sailed into the net. The bounce veered to the right, and Lewis was the man standing on the right edge. He reached his hands out and fell down to keep the ball away from the defenders and held on. A touchdown to win in the final seconds, the first of six that would occur that year as the team would tie the greatest regular season record in AFL history at 17-1. Watch the video below to see the play.